The Boylen Era is here, are you ready? And so it begins, the dawn of a new era at the University of Utah. We heard the hype and felt the optimism, but now it comes down to actual on the court play. Rhetoric does not win games and while Boylen sounds good, it will be his performance in the win column that determines his worth. That starts tonight.
Utah's starting five
Lawrence Borha - Guard. Borha is a player Utah needs to have step up his game if they are going to have any success this season. His streaky play last season yielded little results, as Borha only averaged 4.9 points per game.
Stephen Weigh - Foward. The biggest surprise of the exhibition season has to be Stephen Weigh. Last season he struggled, averaging only 5 points per game, but under Boylen so far, he's flourished. Weigh averaged 19 points in Utah's victories over Montana Tech and Northwest Nazarene. And while neither foe offered Utah any degree of difficulty, it's still a far better improvement over last season. Weigh has been an instrumental part of the Utes' offense and I do not expect that to change in the preseason.
Shaun Green - Forward. Green didn't show much in Utah's exhibition games, but you know he has the ability to blow open a game with his shooting. Whether that's on display tonight will depend on what Boylen decides to do, but Green is capable and should be an offensive weapon this season. Utah, though, will also need some type of defense out of Green, who struggled at times last season defending other forwards. If the Utes don't want a repeat of next year, defensive intensity will be key.
Tyler Kepkay - Gaurd. Is Kepkay the answer to Utah's guard problems? Well he does seem to have a strong command of the court when he is out there. While expectations are high, he still has only played two games at the Division I level and both those games came against easy opponents. It will be interesting to watch him develop at Utah and hopefully becomes a solid guard at this level.
Luke Nevill - Center. The most important player on the court for Utah, at least in the most simplest of reasons. Nevill needs to dominate inside, while also proving to be a defensive nuisance, which he wasn't at times last year. Interior defense is key for Utah and if they can't get that from Nevill, it will open the lane and create a variety of options for the opponent's offense.
It's defense, stupid!
We love defense here at Block U and hope Boylen's talk actually leads to defensive improvement. Last season was a few chemicals short of medical suicide for this program and the lack of any defense was hair-pulling horror. The frustration with shooting nearly 50% from the field and still losing took its toll. Hopefully, that has changed and Utah is ready to step up effort on the defensive end. That means no more allowing opponents to shoot over 50% from outside or the field and definitely no more games where the other team easily hits 80.
Tonight's game probably won't be the best example of what we can expect under Boylen, but it should give us an idea. The fact Utah struggled on defense against Southern Utah in their opener last year -- allowing the Thunderbirds to shoot an embarrassing 65% from the field in Salt Lake -- proves that a poor coached Utah team can lose to an even more inferior coached and talented team. The biggest thing to follow tonight will be Utah's defense. If they shut down the Spartans, things definitely might be looking up for Utah.
Take nothing for granted
Even though this is just South Carolina Upstate, a team in their first year of Division I ball, Utah can't take anything for granted. They lost to Southern Utah last year in the season opener and as Kentucky proved earlier this week, talent alone can't win you games. The Wildcats lost their home opener against Gardner-Webb, a team picked to finish eighth in the Atlantic Sun, which oddly enough is the conference USC Upstate hails from. USC Upstate is picked to finish 12th in the conference, as they make the transition from DII to DI.
What to expect...
Honestly, Utah should roll. USC Upstate is not much better than the past two teams the Utes faced and that leads me to believe this should be an easy victory. While anything is possible, I would be extremely disappointed if the Utes lost. Here's to a victory tonight and a 1-0 season start!